Injuries: Hot compress or cold compress?

May 6, 2021

Using cold and hot therapy for treating pain and discomfort can be confusing. While both are proven safe and effective, knowing when to use these methods is crucial. In this blog post, we will help you understand how to use hot and cold compresses. Read on.

Heat Therapy: How it works

Using heat therapy can improve circulation and blood flow to specific areas. Applying a hot compress to the afflicted area may help:

  • Alleviate pain and discomfort
  • Increase muscle flexibility 
  • Soothe sore muscles 
  • Heal damaged tissues 
  • Reduce joint stiffness and muscle spasm

Types of Heat Therapy

Dry heat and moist heat are the most common types of heat therapy. Both methods aim for “warm” as the ideal temperature, instead of “hot” (maximum temperature is 42 degrees celsius).

Common tools for dry heat therapy:

  • Heating pads
  • Heating packs 
  • Saunas 

Common tools for moist heat therapy: 

  • Steamed towels
  • Moist heating packs
  • Hot baths

When to use heat therapy:

  • Treating muscle spasm
  • Soothe sore muscles after a workout or any strenuous physical activity 
  • To reduce lower back pain and stiffness 
  • To reduce sciatica pain
  • To manage chronic arthritis symptoms

When not to use heat therapy:

Heat therapy is not advisable for people with sensory disorders like diabetes as it could lead to nerve damage. Other pre-existing conditions that should not be treated with heat therapy include:

  • Vascular diseases
  • Dermatitis
  • Deep vein thrombosis 
  • Multiple sclerosis (MS)

Cold Therapy: How it works

Cold therapy or cryotherapy works by reducing blood flow to specific areas. Which can effectively reduce inflammation and swelling that causes pain or discomfort. Cold therapy can also help:

  • Reduce nerve activity 
  • Reduce muscle soreness 
  • Boost immune system

Types of Cold Therapy

There are different ways to apply cold therapy. Treatment options include:

When to use cold therapy:

  • Lower back pain 
  • Swollen muscles 
  • Sprains
  • Strains
  • Runner’s knee
  • Arthritis pain

When not to use cold therapy:

Like heat therapy, cold therapy is not advisable for people with sensory disorders. You should not also apply this method on stiff muscles or joints.

For your own safety, it’s best to consult a physical therapist

The Right Spinal Clinic provides complete physical therapy treatments that can help improve your quality of life. Call us now and schedule an appointment!
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